February 2021: Vitality of Thought

Hey folks,

Once again, the end of February crept up on me out of nowhere – I thought I had a couple of extra days to write this post! Let’s get into it.

The Usual

I’ve had something rattling around in my brain this month that I wanted to dig into here – inspired partly by some of the discourse on Comics Twitter™, and compounded by having spent a chunk of the month wrestling with writer’s block.

I’ve spent a lot of my “brain-idle” time this month dwelling on the question of why I enjoy writing stories. Not in a particularly negative way, but just out of curiosity – what’s my reason for creating characters, worlds and narratives? What does that energy expenditure mean? It feels very much like there’s a constant tug-of-war between the impetus to write stories which are “meaningful” and “important” and the desire to write what I’m passionate about. In some cases, those two things can co-exist, but often I’m reminded that the stories I most want to tell aren’t “important” or “vital”, and aren’t exactly a new and unique vision.

There’s an easy answer to this, which is that every story someone creates is unique to some degree because it’s informed by who they are as a person – how they grew up, how they staple words together, what life and upbringing they’ve had. But I don’t personally find that answer all that helpful, especially when I routinely see discussion about how stories (and the comics medium in particular) should be used to tell stories that nobody has seen before, in a way that’s never been done before. The implication (at least in my mind) is that since there are a lot of other people like me, I should strive to find experimental or downright weird methods of storytelling in order to stand out.

Don’t get me wrong – experimental storytelling can be great, and I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody not to get weird with their writing. But my personal interest is less in pushing the boundaries of the form and more in clarity – I want to tell stories which will stick with people, move and inspire them, and for me that means focusing more on content and less on the form itself. My main hope is that after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, I’ll leave behind something more concrete than just memories, and I don’t need to push myself into a writing style I’m not comfortable with to achieve that.

The Record

*1 page of SENGOKU written
*SPACE COWBOYS issue #2 redrafted
*Notes/basic story summary for THE BLACK RUBRIC sequel
*Two pitches submitted to an anthology
*Lettering work – 12 pages of Professor Elemental: NEMESIS lettered

I’ve taken a little break from SENGOKU writing this month – the first scene is scripted, but I’ve been reconsidering my approach to the “voice” of the protagonist. Rather than the first-person captions I would normally default to, I’d like to try something which is stylistically a bit closer to the incredible series Lone Wolf and Cub (by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima). It’ll mean letting the artwork do a lot more of the storytelling, but I think it’ll make for a stronger result.

SPACE COWBOYS #2 has been redrafted based on Claire’s feedback, and next up is issue #3. I can’t overstate the positives of working with a good editor – Claire’s great at pushing me not to take the lazy/easy approach and to really find the dialogue/ideas which will make this story stand out. I’ve even drawn some location maps/reference sketches for this one so hopefully it’ll make life easier for the artist!

I really had fun making THE BLACK RUBRIC with Katie Fleming, so I’ve been idly toying with the idea of doing a longer (maybe 50/60 pages or so?) sequel since we wrapped up the Kickstarter and launched it. Earlier this month, I hit on what the central premise of the sequel could be – as well as still being a loving spoof of black metal, I think I can see an angle to make it about creative burnout and the struggles of artist desire vs. fan expectation. If that sounds rather more serious than the last issue, don’t worry – I’m still determined to make it funny!

The Tunes

The playlist is a pretty long one this month! As usual, it’s a fairly even mix of stuff that’s new to me and more familiar tracks; Together to the Stars were recommended by a friend and this is a great slab of atmospheric black metal with plenty of melody to keep things interesting. Tides From Nebula make what I can only describe as… synthy post-metal? They (along with Harakiri for the Sky) have a knack for BIG RIFFS and soaring choruses which I’m particularly into. Wormwitch and Tribulation are both in catchier, head-banging territory – not quite black’n’roll, but they know their way around a groove. Palehorse/Palerider are a new discovery, and I’d highly recommend the full album this track is from – it’s like doomy, gloomy, darkness-soaked cowboy music with a metallic edge. Blood Ceremony are one of my favourites – hints of Jethro Tull but modern, more witchy, and fronted by an incredibly talented flautist/organist/singer Alia O’Brien who I’m a little bit in love with. Of Monsters and Men are a pop recommendation from the same friend who directed me to the first track on this playlist (because only listening to one kind of music is boring) and I really enjoyed this song – any act that sounds similar to Chvrches is a winner in my book. Next up is the most pristine rendition of Aerith’s Theme (technically called ‘Flowers Blooming in The Church’) I’ve heard, from the FFVII Remake Soundtrack – this song always makes me emotional because it’s so delicate and sad and hopeful, all at the same time. Lastly, please enjoy 9 minutes of ancient Egyptian/desert temple atmosphere from Karl Sanders, also known as the guitarist of brutal/technical death metal band Nile – his solo project sounds nothing like his day job and it’s a nice, chilled end to the list!

And that’s all from me – the sun is shining for what seems like the first time in months, vaccinations are happening and I might actually be able to play some live shows towards the end of the year. How’s that for something to look forward to, eh?

All the best,

Chris

January 2021: Vitamin Tree

Hey folks,

I know I fell prey to thinking that at midnight on December 31st, 2020 would turn into a pumpkin and we’d all get our lives back… as unrealistic as that was. Nice of 2021 not to slow down much, eh? Let’s get into it.

The Usual

Since we’re in month 216 (or so it seems) of lockdown and still paying the price of our government tacitly encouraging people to socialise over the Christmas break (before changing their minds at the very last second), there haven’t been many of the usual markers that I rely on to emphasise that one year is changing into the next – usually there’s a tangible feeling of “newness” in the air, a sense of possibility in the year ahead. This year, thanks to the continuing uncertainty of COVID, the only sense of possibility is a hope that maybe this year won’t be as bad as last year was. Still, I’m trying to stay positive and keep inching forwards with project progress.

Part of maintaining that positive mindset has been making the time to venture outdoors (safely and alone) and soak in some greenery – whether it’s pseudo-science or a real thing, there’s something about going for a forest wander that really chases away the brain-weasels. Yesterday I had a nice walk around Wyming Brook on the outskirts of Sheffield, somewhere I’ve never been before, and spent most of it just gawping at the scenery and whipping out my phone to take pictures every 30 seconds:

There’s Uruk-Hai in these hills…

It was truly delightful and I’d strongly recommend soaking up some ‘vitamin tree’ if you have the ability to – absolutely beats staring at the same four walls all week and weekend!

The Record

*8 pages of SENGOKU written
*SPACE COWBOYS issues #2 and #3 sent to my wonderful editor Claire Napier for her input and suggestions – next step is redrafting
*HOCKEYTOWN pitch document mostly finished
*Lettering work – 4 pages of Professor Elemental: NEMESIS lettered

I’ve finally broken ground on SENGOKU and actually started writing – I’m taking a much more detail-oriented approach for this script than I have done before, because it’s important to me that I don’t fall prey to the mistakes that are present in a lot of stories told about Japan/Japanese culture by Westerners. I’m linking in tons of visual reference for each scene, and my intent once the first draft is written is to work with a Japanese sensitivity reader who can tell me whether there’s anything glaringly obvious that I’ve missed. The result (of course) is that it’s going to take me a lot longer to write, but it’s not as though I have a deadline!

SPACE COWBOYS (still a working title, I really need to come up with something better) is still trucking along too – since Claire’s happy with the shape of the story thus far I need to start a) firming up exactly where I want to go with the remaining three issues (since my previous draft outline doesn’t quite match up to the story we’re now telling) and b) thinking about reaching out to some artists and putting together a pitch for it! I have a couple of people in mind, but as with everything, it’ll depend entirely on whether they’re interested in the story. Fingers crossed!

The pitch document for HOCKEYTOWN is basically a chunky Powerpoint which contains bits of artwork from the pages that are done so far, the story synopsis, a detailed breakdown of the story and an explanation of why we think it’s a comic worth publishing. The pages (once they’re coloured and lettered) will be stored in a Dropbox and accessible via a link on the pitch document. I’ve never pitched anything before (I’m using a template that another writer shared online) so I have no idea if it’s any good, but hopefully it presents the story in the best possible light.

The Tunes

This month’s playlist follows a fairly straightforward progression from heavier stuff to lighter, commencing with the mighty Earth – Zé Burnay (@Ze_Burnay on Twitter, a phenomenal artist) mentioned this album a while back and it reminded me that I haven’t heard it in far too long. After that we have one of my personal favourite Children of Bodom songs – their singer/guitarist Alexi Laiho passed away this month at the too-young age of 41. I spent most of my teenage years trying to learn how to play his songs, and almost as much time lusting after his signature guitar on the ESP Japan website – this one hurt, but I know he’d been suffering from ill-health for a while and I hope he’s partying up a storm on the other side. Next up are a couple of tracks fed to me by the Spotify algorithm by Countless Skies and Green Carnation, and after that we’re taking a brief diversion into Tolkien-inspired metal (in the vein of the mighty Summoning) with Moongates Guardian. I have a real soft spot for this kind of super-atmospheric, not particularly heavy metal with tons of keyboards! After that, the final “metal” track on the playlist belongs to Elder, whose album art really caught my eye before their proggy doom metal impressed my ears. The “cool-down” section of the playlist starts with some Eastern-inspired trip-hop courtesy of Xori, then a song which I already recognised despite never having listened to it before – the opening part of ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’ by Penguin Cafe Orchestra was used in a TV ad campaign for a telecoms company for years so it was weird to have it pop up halfway through the album! Finally, the playlist closes out with some wintry acoustic music as a nod to the blizzards we’ve been having semi-regularly over here – TPR with a mournful piano rendition of a track from Final Fantasy 7, and Myrkur with a new haunting folk single that builds on last year’s incredible Folkesange.

That’s all for this month – congrats on making it through January, the days are only going to get longer and warmer from here on out!

All the best,

Chris